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How to Plan a Successful Opening in Gamblers Part 2

Part 2: What is your Dog's Obstacle Number? By Alicia Nicholas. How many obstacles can your dog do in a 30-second gamblers opening?

Last week, we learned about general Gamblers rules and how to plan an opening. This week we will take a look at a different Gamble with a 30-second opening as well as learn how to measure our own dog's Gamblers obstacle number (how many obstacles your dog can take in an opening period, based on the amount of time he takes to do the obstacles). We will also look at other factors that influence the obstacle number, like motivating and demotivating course plans.

When learning about your dog's obstacle number, it helps to know how quickly he can perform specific obstacles. For example, most dogs take more than two seconds to do the weave poles, the dogwalk, teeter, and possibly the A-frame.

The Obstacle Number Game

A fun way to determine your dog's true obstacle number is to play what I call the Obstacle Number Game. Set up a standard course that has been tweaked to allow a little less flow and give yourself an ending obstacle. In the example "What's Your Obstacle Number" course included here, the table is the ending obstacle, but you can make it a jump or a tunnel. 

Plan a course that will put you ending on the table in 30 seconds. Have a friend help time you and your dog running that course and write down how many obstacles you were able to complete (always counting the weaves, teeter, dogwalk and maybe the A-frame as double) and the time when you ended on the table. 

Try this a few different times, running a few different courses. Make sure you test out different handling maneuvers that you might use because it is important to know how those moves affect your dog's speed. Some dogs love flipping back to do the weaves again; other dogs find this demotivating, for example. Get an average of the number of obstacles your dog can do in 30 seconds. This is your Obstacle Number. Don't forget when planning that the obstacles that take your dog longer to do count as two. So if your obstacle number is 12, and you plan to do the dogwalk and the weaves, which are "double" obstacles, you will only have 8 obstacles left to choose, not 10. 

If you have a 25-second opening, plan to do a few less obstacles. But even a 30-second opening might require fewer obstacles if the obstacles are very spread out on the course with a lot of yardage to be covered.

Here is another example of a nice opening for Gamblers, using a 30-second opening instead of 25 seconds like last week. Your homework is to plan an opening that uses your dog's obstacle number AND puts you at the correct trajectory to be successful in the closing!

Check back next week for How to Plan a Successful Opening in Gamblers Part 3, when you can check  your homework!

This article is part of USDAA's Training Tuesday series appears on USDAA's facebook page. We encourage you to discuss this exercise on our facebook and to upload videos of your class or training group trying it out. If you have a facebook account, please join in the fun here:

Alicia Nicholas has been doing agility since 2001 and has been teaching the sport since 2004. She started her agility journey with two Corgis, and since then she has run Border Collies, a Swedish Vallhund and a Papillion. Alicia believes that dog training is a very important aspect of dog agility and encourages a strong foundation for dogs that do agility. Alicia teaches all levels of agility handling, from foundation to international level classes. She also teaches competition obedience, focus and relationship, puppy classes, how to coach yourself classes, tricks classes, and more. Alicia says, "Agility is a sport which requires mental toughness and goal setting while keeping in mind that your canine partner is in it for fun! Goals are an important part of the journey; it's how you attain them that matters!" Alicia can be reached via email at or through her website ( and you can read her blog at


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